Masayuki “Masa” Sakurai, owner of the popular Kamakura guesthouse Kamejikan (“turtle time”), has created a slow-paced community for both visitors and locals, inspired by his overseas travel.
“I traveled mainly in Asia and Africa, where extreme capitalism is not so influential and people are happy with less. They are less busy. They have time for communication between friends and family,” Sakurai explains. “It changed my idea of what it means to be ‘developed.’ I wanted to slow down, to forget about the cutting edge.”
For Sakurai, communication was vital to building the Kamejikan community.
“As long as the guests are open to communicating, then we can be happy by talking together,” he says.
English is necessary for his success, as over 40 percent of his guests are travelers from overseas.
Like most Japanese, Sakurai studied English from junior high school, but he had a special motivation.
“I really loved rap and other popular music and I enjoyed learning English in school because it helped me to understand the lyrics of English songs,” he recalls.
He put most of his effort into English and continued his studies in university, taking advantage of study abroad programs to London and Spain. He also taught English to children in Nepal for five months after graduation.
“After Nepal I realized there are many different values and ways of life,” Sakurai says.
He found a job in the music industry after returning to Japan, but was determined to see more of the world. He worked for six years and set off in 2000 after saving enough money.
“My original plan was to travel all around the world,” he says. “I took a ferry from Osaka to Shanghai and then made my way through Asia to Greece and then through the Middle East crossing the Red Sea to Egypt and then across-country all the way to Cape Town, by train, bus, walking — however I could. My trip ended in Africa; I spent eight months in Cape Town and eight months in Zimbabwe. Those long periods of time in English-speaking countries really improved my English. I only took one flight: the one back to Japan.”
After the three-year trip, Sakurai moved away from Tokyo to Zushi in Kanagawa Prefecture for a slower-paced life close to nature. He joined Transition Town, a Hayama network devoted to creating sustainable communities, and his dream of opening a guesthouse began to take form. Staying in friendly guesthouses during his travels had left a big impression on him.
“A guesthouse is not just about staying and then leaving. It’s an instant community, a place where people communicate no matter whether you are a staff member or a guest,” he says.
By 2008, Sakurai found a like-minded partner and, after a long search, they found a property to convert into a guesthouse: a nearly 100-year-old building that had been abandoned for over 15 years.
Sakurai admits he faced many challenges in launching Kamejikan, which opened in May 2011 in the uncertain aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. But he is now satisfied with the community he has built, which welcomes guests from all over Japan and the world.
Kamejikan is no longer just a place to stay; guests now enjoy a weekend cafe where they can hang out with locals, and for two nights a month, a special bar/restaurant operates out of the guesthouse so guests can meet their Kamakura neighbors. Sakurai also teaches the mbira, a traditional Zimbabwe instrument, twice a month.
Communication is still the key: He’s studying Chinese to chat with his guests from Taiwan and China, and continues studying English too.
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Sakurai says, and he lives that value slowly, every day, at Kamejikan. (Kris Kosaka)
Words to live by